Organic avocado grower Googa Farms in the state of Queensland will apply the technology for the first time in Australia next month, according to a report from Australian Organic Producer magazine.
Operating in the visible light spectrum, the laser machine etches a shallow label into the skin of the fruit, removing a layer of pigment, meaning unscrupulous consumers cannot switch the organic fruit with conventional fruit in supermarket checkouts.
“Basically we were told by major retailers that if we didn’t come up with an alternative to stickers for loose produce, we would have to package our fresh food in layers of plastic packaging to keep it separate from conventional items,” says Anthony Beutel, director of Googa Farms.
“It was a huge problem – people were tampering with stickers and there was often substantially less organic goods being scanned through checkouts than we were supplying, which affected the volume we were then asked to re-supply.”
Retailers reportedly support the initiative, and have run their own trials showing the laser label does not reduce shelf life or eating quality.
The system can offer significant savings in money and time over conventional sticker labelling, said the Australian Organic Producer report.
“The initial set-up cost – the price of the machine itself – is substantial but after that it operates on the same energy as a 100 watt lightbulb and is capable of labelling up to 14 pieces of fruit a second. It’s environmentally friendly and considerably less time consuming than stickers,” Mr Beutel said.
The laser technology was developed in the US, and is already being used by conventional fruit packers in New Zealand.